| Left youth wings’ rally holds up a family, with the girl in the background in a school uniform, near College Street around 2.30 pm on Monday. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta, Oct. 13: From tomorrow, Bengal’s political parties will be free to hold rallies as and when and where they please.
Although followed more in its breach than observance during its two-week life, Justice Amitava Lala’s ruling restricting rallies was legally blocked by the government today when it received a stay order from a division bench of Calcutta High Court.
Political parties and their affiliates had not waited for any legal sanction, however. Even as Justice A.K. Ganguly and Justice S.P. Talukdar heard the government’s appeal against the order passed on September 29 prohibiting rallies between 8 am and 8 pm on weekdays, youth organisations of the ruling Left Front were defiantly marching on the streets.
The case will now move to a regular bench — today’s sitting was of the vacation court — but not before November 11.
Another legal front may open in the intervening period with an advocate present at today’s hearing expressing his intention to move the Supreme Court in an attempt to restrain rallies.
The advocate, Supradip Ray, had filed the first public interest litigation against rallies in 1999.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who had kept his lips shut over the past fortnight, broke into poetry after the stay.
“Kahe je bistor, baje se kahe (He who speaks a lot speaks nonsense),” he said in explanation of his past silence.
“One should not comment on the last act at the end of the first act,” he added.
Has the last act played itself out, then' Ray does not believe so. He said he would go to the Supreme Court “as soon as possible” to find out how a government that had signed an affidavit recommending that rallies be banned from the central business district could now contest Justice Lala’s ruling.
Between the burst of poetry and the allusion to drama, the chief minister did accept, though, that “everyone’s” problem must be addressed. He was referring to the inconvenience caused to people by rallies.
One great inconvenience — of the police — was removed by the stay. Still, a smile — let alone poetry — was not on deputy commissioner (headquarters) Kuldiep Singh’s lips.
He said the police would “continue implementing” Justice Lala’s ruling till they get a copy of the stay order.
In effect, the police have never enforced the rally ruling, arguing that it had not received a copy, which was in their hands only this evening after today’s procession was over.
More than 10,000 people marched from College Street to Esplanade, bringing central Calcutta to a halt, before their leaders met the chief minister, pleading for his “intervention for restoration of democratic rights”.
Singh, however, believed that “today’s rally created no problem for the non-rally Calcuttan”.
He expected the copy of the stay order to arrive tomorrow, which will be very convenient for the police because they will then get away with not enforcing the ruling at all.
Two more protests — planned for Tuesday and Wednesday — by Left Front organisations against Justice Lala’s ruling have now been classed as conventions without rallies.
At CPM’s Alimuddin Street headquarters, the party’s state secretary, Anil Biswas, expressed delight at the “victory for democracy”. Like the chief minister, though, he interrupted the victory hoop with the comment that “people’s right to free movement has to be protected”.
Justices Ganguly and Talukdar needed four hours of hearing to stay the rally restriction ruling, which followed a procession on September 24 that had held up Justice Lala, along with hundreds of other Calcuttans.
The government deputed its very best to argue its case, fielding advocate-general Balai Ray, supported by advocate-on-record Ashim Kumar Chatterjee and high court government pleader Rabilal Maitra.
The argument ran thus:
Even if the police committed contempt by blocking Justice Lala for some time when he was on his way to court, only a division bench could hear that suit.
And, even if that contempt suit was acceptable, the court could only punish or absolve the alleged contemner; there was no scope for issuing any directive.
Managing life in the city was a matter of administrative policy and the court did not have any jurisdiction over that.